Initial Comments on the Reiter Article
Adam Omelianchuk has done everyone a great service by summarizing David Reiter’s recent article on the Transcendental Argument for God (TAG) which recently appeared in Philosophia Christi. I left a comment there with my initial response to the article. (I was working from memory and do not have a copy of the article in front of me even now so I cannot get very specific.)
I have read the article in question and it appears to me as though a traditional argument form is being assumed in the case of TAG in order to argue that it is traditional.
From what I can gather from Reiter’s argument and footnotes he is familiar with the work of Choi and Collett but unfamiliar with Van Til and Bahnsen. Reiter’s comments concerning the Anselmian conception of God were explicitly addressed by both Van Til and Bahnsen, but Reiter appears to be unaware of this by his own admission in a footnote. Thus it is not suprising for me to find, for example, “If p is not a necessary feature of reality then neither is G.” Note how very far this understanding is from that of Greg Bahnsen who would begin his argument with principles and operational features of thought such as the uniformity of nature or the reliability of the senses. Both are contingent.
Jared Oliphint’s comment above is particularly helpful. He wrote, “What many fail to understand is that when TAG is properly expressed, the transcendental argument is not used as a formal proof that works independent of its content, but as a way to describe Scripture’s claim that God is the personal pre-condition for everything and anything whatsoever – ontologically, epistemologically, ethically, etc.”
Roberto G responded, “Among Van Til’s followers, Greg Bahnsen would disagree with some of the above quotation. He did attempt to employ TAG as a formal proof in his debate with Gordon Stein. He even explicitly denied he was assuming Scripture in order to prove the Scriptures in an exchange with his atheist opponent.”
However, Bahnsen’s argument in the Stein debate is less than clearly stated in any traditional sense and Jared’s comment does not exclude the possibility of formally stating TAG but rather explains that there is a problem with divorcing TAG from its content. My way of putting the matter is, “You gotta keep the presup in TAG.”
Bahnsen explicitly denied using the argument Stein attempted to ascribe to him which was clearly question begging, but he most certainly did not deny that the truth of Scripture must be assumed in all of our argumentation including TAG. Bahnsen drew a distinction between question begging arguments and the type of circularity involved in TAG. See Bahnsen’s debate with Sproul for more on this.
We are not arguing from some fact(s) to the necessary existence of God or borrowing from a medieval philosopher’s conception of a god in his own mind but rather presupposing the existence of the God of Scripture who exists necessarily and arguing that unless others do so as well they are unable to render human experience intelligible on their own terms.
Note that the most popular responses to TAG come from Christians and call into question the form of the argument while perhaps inadvertantly diverting attention away from having to provide a comprehensive non-Christian worldview and corresponding epistemology which renders human experience intelligible. Bahnsen was not the type who would let this sort of thing slide. He explained that Van Til would employ the transcendental argument in defense of the transcendental argument and I think we are perfectly justified in doing the same.
Where is Reiter standing in order to raise his concerns about TAG? Whence logic?
I think it’s important to recognize that Reiter argues that his dilemma only applies to 2 of 3 possible “classical” formulations of TAG, and that he thinks some merit might be found in pursuing the 3rd option (strong modal claims all around). His dilemma holds if you grant his formulations.
“…it appears to me as though a traditional argument form is being assumed in the case of TAG in order to argue that it is traditional.”
What alternative to a “traditional argument form” do you think is legitimate?
(I’ve some less-than-fully-formed notions of my own on the matter, but would like to hear your thoughts.)
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